Today in Estimates I had the opportunity to ask the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation two questions concerning poverty, homelessness and affordability. I ended up not asking the third question. Earlier in the day government announced changes to the support for single parents on income or disability assistance; yesterday government also announced changes to the support for families with children who receive income assistance.
My third question would have been:
“In the Premier’s mandate letter to the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation on June 10, 2014, the Ministry was mandated to work with the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide options to Cabinet that will ensure barriers are removed for single mothers looking to develop their skills to secure long-term employment. Given that lone-mother families are at a much higher risk of living in poverty than lone-father families and couple families, this mandate is important for addressing BC’s growing child poverty rate. What has the Ministry done over the last year to ensure that this mandate is met and what steps does this budget take to improve upon the work that is already being done?”
Based on the disappointing answers I received on my first two questions, I expected that I would simply be told about the two recent announcements government made.
Below I reproduce the exchange between the Minister and me.
A. Weaver: I recognize that a version of this question may have been asked. I’ve just got three questions. I am trying to put together the answers so that I can use them in the further work that we’re doing in my riding on the issue of poverty.
The first question is with respect to income assistance rates in B.C. which, as the minister will know, have not increased since 2007, with maximum monthly shelter allowance for a single individual on income assistance set at $375.
As of April 2013 the average monthly rent paid by someone on income assistance in greater Victoria was $501. These monthly rent rates are consistent throughout the province, if not even more in some jurisdictions.
My question is this. Does the minister have plans to increase income assistance and shelter allowance rates in order to keep up with inflation and market pricing? If not, why not?
Hon. Michelle Stilwell: To the member: I expected you to provide questions to me ahead of time like you give everybody else, but thank you for your question.
We acknowledge that it is very challenging for people who are living on income assistance, and we have definitely made the commitment to raise the rates when the fiscal situation allows. But most importantly, we continue to refine the policies that we have within my ministry and within other ministries, as we saw today with the announcement we made for single parents. We’ve also made the announcement a few months ago about the annualized earnings exemptions for persons with a disability, the child support exemptions, the increase in exemptions that we saw yesterday. There are ways that we can refine the policies in the meantime while we continue to try and make life better for those individuals who rely on us most.
A. Weaver: I do apologize for not providing questions in advance. I normally do that. I’m just not that organized now because there are so many bills that are coming before us so quickly. They’re coming up so fast that I’m unable to actually stay more than, like, half a day ahead of this.
Here’s my second surprise question. Studies have found that 52 percent of people on the streets have brain injuries. Approximately 74 percent of those individuals had their brain injury before becoming homeless. Given these findings and the fact that responsibility for social assistance programs falls under the mandate of the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation, has the ministry considered working with the Ministry of Health to address the need for improved supports and services for brain injury survivors?
Hon. Michelle Stilwell: Yes, we do actively work with and in partnership with the Ministry of Health but also with health authorities, other non-profits, B.C. Housing, multiple partnerships around. When it comes to the Ministry of Health, we use our ACT Teams with the outreach to ensure that the homeless, including those who are brain-injured, are actively brought into the income or disability system.
Most likely, a person with a brain injury would qualify for PWD, and we would have expedited services for access to the Medical Service Plan and the PharmaCare plan as well. I certainly recognize and acknowledge the concern that you’ve brought forward.
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